Live updates: Kremlin denies Russia targeted populated areas | Nation

The latest on the Russia-Ukraine war:

MOSCOW — The Kremlin has denied that the Russian military targeted populated areas in Ukraine despite abundant evidence that residential buildings, schools and hospitals have been hit during the Russian invasion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov alleged Monday that civilian casualties have resulted from members of right-wing Ukrainian nationalist groups using civilians as shields and putting military equipment in populated areas. Peskov’s claims couldn’t be independently confirmed and they contradicted statements from Ukrainian officials who accused Russia of targeting civilians.

Peskov did not comment on Russian demands in planned talks with Ukrainian officials, saying it’s necessary to allow negotiations to proceed before making public comment. He also declined to spell out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to put Russian nuclear forces on high alert.

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WARSAW, Poland – The prime ministers of the three Baltic states and Poland are calling on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google to restrict the spread of misinformation by Russia about its invasion of Ukraine.

In a letter dated Sunday the prime ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland directly called on Mark Zuckerberg, Susan Wojcicki, Parag Agrawal and Sundar Pichai to take action immediately, saying the steps they’ve been taking so far are “not enough.”

“The Russian government seeks to spread lies, confusion and doubt about what is happening and to undermine the morale and unity of the democratic world,” the letter read.

Russia’s “massive disinformation campaign” is to “justify to the world and to its own people its war of aggression and to hide the crimes that are being committed in its course,” it said.

The prime ministers say that the online platform providers and tech companies “need to take a stand as authoritarian regimes seek to weaponize the openness of our societies to undermine peace and democracy.”

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president says 16 Ukrainian children have been killed and another 45 have been injured in the Russian invasion.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message Monday that “every crime, every shelling by the occupiers bring our partners and us even closer.”

He hailed the sanctions that the West slapped on Russia, saying they have brought the Russian currency down. Zelenskyy asked the European Union a special quick path to membership.

Zelenskyy said that over 4,500 Russian troops have been killed and called on Russian soldiers to lay down their guns and leave. “Don’t trust you commanders, don’t trust your propaganda, just save your lives,” he said.

LONDON — Britain’s defense secretary says President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he was putting Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert was largely an effort to distract the world from the troubles facing his invasion of Ukraine.

Ben Wallace told the BBC that while he understood concerns about the warning, Britain has analyzed the statements and sees no evidence of a change in Russia’s nuclear deployment or readiness to use the weapons.

“This is him reminding the world that he’s got a (nuclear) deterrent…,” Wallace said. “But secondly, it’s part of a distraction as well. He’s put it out there and we’re all talking about it, rather than the lack of success they’re currently having in Ukraine.”

The comments came as the U.K. defense ministry said its intelligence showed that the bulk of Russia’s forces were still 30 kilometers to the north of Kyiv. Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate Russian advance, the ministry said.

Wallace said Britain takes Putin’s warning “very, very seriously” and won’t do anything that increases the chances for miscalculation on either side.

“But at the moment this is a battle of rhetoric that President Putin is deploying, and we just have to make sure we manage it properly,” he said.

GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body has agreed to hold an “urgent debate” on the situation in Ukraine.

The Human Rights Council opened its first meeting of the year by front-loading consideration of the matter in an emergency debate in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

The vote in the 47-member-state body was 29-5, with 13 abstentions.

Ukraine and Russia, as well as the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are current members.

The debate is expected to take place Thursday, part of the five-week Human Rights Council session that runs through April 1.

MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister has called the Russian president’s order to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert “one more sign of the absolute irrationality of Vladimir Putin.”

“I hope they are simply words, but the mere fact of using those words, of using that threat, shows that Vladimir Putin’s irrationality has reached an unimaginable point,” José Manuel Albares told Spanish national radio on Monday.

Albares didn’t clarify if Spain, like other European Union members, is ready to send weapons or other military aid to Ukraine, which is enduring the fifth day of invasion from Russia. The Spanish government sent 20 tons of humanitarian aid and military defensive gear over the weekend.

Instead, the foreign minister defended that sanctions against Russian officials and oligarchs would be a deterrent, and necessary even if they bring negative effects in the West.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told private radio station Onda Cero that Putin’s order was “irreponsible.”

“Be alarmed, be alarmed, be alarmed!,” Borrell said when asked about Putin’s announcement during an interview in Spanish private radio Onda Cero. “It is absolutely irresponsible at this time to call for nuclear weaponry.”

PRZEMYSL, Poland — Trains continue to bring refugees fleeing war in Ukraine to safety in Poland and in other countries.

Poland’s Border Guard says around 213,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since Thursday, when Russia waged war on Ukraine.

Another train carrying hundreds of refugees from Ukraine arrived early Monday in the town of Przemysl, in southeastern Poland.

In winter coats to protect them against near-freezing temperatures, with small suitcases, they lined at the platform to the exit. Some waved at the camera to show they felt relief to be out of the war zone. Many were making phone calls.

TOKYO — Former Japnaese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan should start discussing a possibility of seeking a NATO-style nuclear sharing arrangements as nuclear deterrence in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We should not put a taboo on discussions about the reality of how the world is kept safe,” Abe said on a Fuji Television talk show Sunday. “We should firmly consider various options when we talk about how we can protect Japan and the lives of its people in this reality (of Ukraine).”

Abe, who bolstered Japan’s military spending and capability during his eight year leadership and known for his hawkish stance, stepped down in 2020 but still remains highly influential and heads the largest faction of Japan’s governing party.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday told a parliamentary session that nuclear sharing isn’t permissible because of Japan’s non-nuclear principles. Kishida said last week possessing or using nuclear weapon is not an option for Japan.

ROME — The Vatican is offering its services for any negotiation aimed at ending the war in Ukraine.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, told several Italian newspapers in an interview published on Monday, that “even though what we feared and what we hoped wouldn’t happen did happen, there is always space for negotiation.”

He noted that the Holy See, “offering its willingness to facilitate dialogue with Russia, is always ready to help the parties to get back on that path.’’

On Friday, Pope Francis in an extraordinary step went to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See to meet with the Russian ambassador. The pontiff pressed for an end to fighting and a return to negotiations, Parolin noted.

While Orthodox Christians are predominant among the faithful in Ukraine, the Catholic Church has a discreet presence in that country through believers who follow the Eastern Rite of Catholicism.

PARIS — France’s Minister for European Affairs says an EU ban on Russian state-owned channels Russia Today and Sputnik is an “absolute need.”

Clement Beaune said on French radio Europe 1 that he has “no problem” with banning the channels because they are spreading “propaganda.”

The European move was announced by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

It comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a key campaign issue in France. The country’s presidential election is scheduled in two rounds on April 10 and 24.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex is to meet on Monday with all presidential candidates about the conflict.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to run for a second term, has not formally declared his candidacy yet. Macron is holding a special defense meeting on Ukraine on Monday.

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s defense industry conglomerate says the world’s largest plane that was in regular operation was heavily damaged in fighting with Russian troops at the airport outside Kyiv where it was parked.

The Ukroboronprom company said in a statement that the Antonov-225 was “destroyed” but would be repaired. The An-225, which is operated by Ukroboronprom’s subsidiary Antonov Airlines, is used to move exceptionally large cargos. Its arrivals and departures at overseas airports often attract aviation buffs to observe the lumbering plane with a 290-foot (84-meter) wingspan.

Only two planes have been built with larger wingspans — the Stratolaunch and the Hughes “Spruce Goose” — but each was used only for a single flight.

MOSCOW — The Russian military says that residents of the Ukrainian capital can use a safe corridor to leave the city if they want.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Monday that Kyiv residents can safely use a highway leading to Vasylkiv just southwest of the Ukrainian capital. The statement came as fighting raged in various parts of the Ukrainian capital, with Ukrainian authorities saying that they were fighting small groups of Russian forces in various sectors of the capital.

Konashenkov charged that Ukrainian “nationalists” were deploying military equipment using the city residents as shields, the allegations that can’t be independently verified. Despite Russian military claims that it wasn’t targeting populated areas, residential buildings, hospitals and schools have been hit all across Ukraine during the Russian invasion that began Thursday.

Konashenkov also announced new land gains, saying Russian troops have taken control of the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the south, noting that the plant was safe and the radiation levels in the area have remained normal.

MOSCOW — Russia’s Central Bank has sharply raised its key rate from 9.5% to 20% in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent the run of banks amid crippling Western sanctions over the Russian war in Ukraine.

The bank’s action follows the Western decision Sunday to freeze its hard currency reserves in an unprecedented move that could have devastating consequences for the country’s financial stability. It was unclear exactly what share of Russia’s estimated $640 billion hard currency coffers will be paralyzed by the move, but European officials said that at least half of it will be affected.

The move will dramatically raise pressure on the ruble by undermining the financial authorities’ ability to conduct hard currency interventions to prevent the ruble from sinking further and triggering high inflation. The ruble has sharply dived in early Monday trading.

The Central Bank also ordered a slew of measures to help the banks cope with the crisis by infusing more cash into the system and easing restrictions for banking operations. At the same time, it temporarily barred non-residents from selling the government obligations to help ease the pressure on ruble from panicky foreign investors eager to cash out.

MOSCOW — Russia’s investigative agency says it has opened a probe into the allegations of torture of Russian prisoners of war by members of Ukrainian forces.

The Investigative Committee, the main state criminal investigation agency, said Monday that the probe will track down people responsible for torturing Russian prisoners.

The move followed the claim by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, who pointed at alleged incidents in which Ukrainian forces tortured Russian prisoners and vowed to track all the culprits down and bring them to justice. He didn’t provide details or evidence to back the claim.

Russian officials have sought to cast members of Ukraine’s right-wing groups as “neo-Nazis.“

Konashenkov also acknowledged for the first time that the Russian military has suffered casualties in the attack on Ukraine but hasn’t named any numbers and claimed that the Russian losses are “much smaller” compared to the Ukrainian.

SAN FRANCISCO — Security officials at Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, said they identified an increase in attempts to hack the accounts of public figures in Ukraine, including a journalist, members of the Ukrainian military and at least one politician. Separately, they said the company disrupted a misinformation network run by people in Russia and Ukraine.

The hacking attempts originated from a group known to security experts as Ghostwriter, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy. That group generally tries to break into the social media accounts of its targets and then post misinformation as if it had originated with the targets themselves. For instance, the company observed several attempts to get people to post videos that allegedly showed Ukrainian soldiers surrendering, Gleicher said.

The relatively small misinformation network, by contrast, ran several false websites that masqueraded as news outlets and published claims that the West was betraying Ukraine. It also created fictitious personas that posed as news editors, an aviation expert and the author of a scientific publication. Meta security teams took down about 40 fake accounts, pages and groups involved in this operation, none of which appeared to have significant followings.

UNITED NATIONS — The two major bodies in the United Nations will hold separate meetings Monday on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings of the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council reflect widespread demands for a cease-fire and escalating concern for the millions of Ukrainians caught up in the war.

The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war and vote on a resolution that U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said would “hold Russia to account for its indefensible actions and for its violations of the U.N. Charter.”

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced the Security Council meeting on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, a session sought by French President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the delivery of aid to people in need in Ukraine.

Both meetings follow Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. The vote Friday was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.

MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian countries have expressed deep concern over the hostilities in Ukraine and called for dialogue but did not condemn the Russian invasion despite calls for a tougher stance against Moscow’s aggression.

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a statement Monday calling “on all relevant parties to exercise maximum restraint and make utmost efforts to pursue dialogues through all channels” before the situation gets out of control.

“It is the responsibility of all parties to uphold the principles of mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and equal rights of all nations,” the regional bloc said.

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. intelligence official says Belarus is expected to send troops into Ukraine as soon as Monday to fight alongside Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week.

Belarus has been providing support for Russia’s war effort, but so far has not taken a direct part in the conflict.

The American official has direct knowledge of current U.S. intelligence assessments and says the decision by Belarus’ leader on whether to bring Belarus further into the war depends on talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in the coming days. The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive information.

Russian forces have encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders, and U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.

BERLIN — The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog says missiles have hit a radioactive waste disposal site in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, but there are no reports of damage to the buildings or indications of a release of radioactive material.

In a statement late Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi says Ukrainian authorities informed his office about the overnight strike. He says his agency expects to soon receive the results of on-site radioactive monitoring.

The report came a day after an electrical transformer at a similar disposal facility in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was damaged.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Updated: April 11, 2022 — 7:31 am

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